- - Monday, September 24, 2018


The opioid epidemic is a crisis that’s destroying families and too many communities. If we cannot reverse these trends, the U.S. stands to lose the equivalent of an entire American city within a decade. The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan legislative package this week, following action by the House of Representatives earlier this summer. That’s good news, and we commend Congress and the Administration for taking action.

Here’s the bad news. In 2016 alone, the opioid epidemic killed more than 42,000 Americans, and early figures show that opioid-related deaths approached 50,000 in 2017.

We all know the opioid epidemic and addiction are not partisan issues. The 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, which both passed by large bipartisan majorities in 2016, made over $1 billion dollars in funding available to states and communities to increase prevention and treatment. At the state level, key legislation passed in several states to limit the standard supply of opioids that doctors can prescribe to patients.

These bipartisan efforts are commendable. However, the opioid epidemic is multifaceted, and legislation is just one part of the solution. We also need community collaboration between law enforcement, social services agencies, community housing programs, health care providers, pharmacists, health insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies — in affected communities. Addiction has complex causes that relate to more than just the availability of prescription drugs. This crisis requires a multifaceted solutions-based approach.

Coordination and communication among all the different players, including those on the front lines of the crisis, are crucial to combatting it in the most effective way. Insurance providers are uniquely positioned to play that coordination role among the various players involved. To build on these efforts, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) recently launched its Safe, Transparent Opioid Prescribing (STOP) Initiative including a comprehensive playbook that provides real-world examples of innovative ways insurance providers are combatting this crisis.

Through their networks, access to data, and engaging with their local communities, insurance providers have unique tools and insight into effective measures that can prevent abuse, intervene early when necessary, and ensure those suffering from addiction have access to treatment and recovery.

For example, Cigna recently set a new goal: to reduce opioid overdoses among their enrollees by an additional 25 percent by December 2021 after already achieving a 25 percent reduction goal in March 2018, one year ahead of schedule. In coordination with the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Cigna reached these results by bringing together doctors and pharmacists to identify preventative strategies to combat addiction, all without depriving patients of necessary pain medication.

At the state level, Independence Blue Cross in Pennsylvania deployed a new set of strategies to refine medical policies and identify doctors who may be overprescribing opioids. The results speak for themselves; since 2015, Independence has seen a major drop in opioid use, with a 45 percent reduction in opioid users and a 35 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions. Independence has also launched new community programs to help improve access to comprehensive rehabilitation programs for opioid use disorders, including detoxification, rehabilitation, outpatient programs, counseling, and medication-assisted treatment.

Insurance providers are just one part of a much bigger effort. A grassroots epidemic calls for grassroots action. Stepping up the entire way, community organizations, local businesses and families across the country are taking action to aid recovery programs and support groups. We’ve also seen community groups and individuals organize “Drug Take-Back Days” in their communities to help reduce the supply of prescription opioids getting into the wrong hands.

We should all commit to enactment of opioid legislation in our nation’s capital marking a new starting point in addressing the epidemic, not the finish line. Much more work needs to be done. We must tackle the root causes of addiction with multifaceted support at the community level — from physicians and hospitals, to law enforcement, to insurance providers. If all of us — industry stakeholders, state and federal policymakers, and community leaders and organizations — recommit to continued and improved coordination, collaboration, and focusing on patients, we have a fighting chance at ending one of the biggest American public health emergencies of our generation.

• Matt Eyles is president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans. He is on the board of directors of the National Health Council and was previously on the board of the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation.

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